Science and Environmental Policy The Loyal Opposition: One of the most humanely compelling criticisms of the thinking exhibited by the pontifical academies that went into the Pope’s recent encyclical, Laudato Si’ (Praised Be), was “The Pontifical Academies’ Broken Moral Compass,” written by Indur Goklany and published by the Global Warming Policy Foundation. Goklany’s 2007 book, The Improving State of the World: Why We’re Living Longer, Healthier, More Comfortable Lives on a Cleaner Planet is a classic on the improving human condition – largely attributable to the use of fossil fuels. Goklany’s book and his analysis of the pope’s encyclical is data driven – not model driven, unlike the thinking of the pontifical academies that relies on forecasts from inadequately tested, non-valid climate models. Goklany divided his book into four parts. The first part addresses the trends in human well-being and the factors responsible for those trends, emphasizing that, although not without environmental problems, economic development has improved the human condition. The improvement can be measured by access to food, safe water, sanitation, mortality, life expectancy, etc. These are related to economic development and technological change. In general, new problems are solved more quickly than old ones. The second part addresses the effects of economic development and technological change on environmental quality. As seen in Western economies, particularly the US, the long term trends are very favorable. The third part examines how the improvements in human well-being and environmental quality can coexist in a more populated and richer world of the future. This section includes a chapter on climate change and shows how adaptive management, in the short and medium term, will advance human and environmental well-being more quickly and efficiently than efforts to mitigate against climate change. The concluding fourth part includes a synthesis of the prior sections and the benefits of technological change, economic growth, and free trade to humanity and the environment. The Pontifical Academies offer no compelling data to refute the optimistic view of the world presented by Goklany. In his criticism of the work of the pontifical academies, Goklany focuses on the four opening sentences of their joint declaration:
Climate Change and the Common Good: A Statement of The Problem and the Demand for Transformative Solutions, “echoes of which resonate in the recent papal encyclical.”The sentences are:
- “Unsustainable consumption coupled with a record human population and the uses of inappropriate technologies are causally linked with the destruction of the world’s sustainability and resilience.” Goklany contradicts the statement by offering observational evidence that population has increased, life expectancy has increased, overall health has improved, living standards have increase, and percentage of population living in absolute poverty has declined. Further, Goklany shows that global death rates from extreme weather events are down, crop yields are up, access to safe water has improved, and so on. Unlike the academies, he backs his assertions with data.
- “Widening inequalities of wealth and income, the world-wide disruption of the physical climate system and the loss of millions of species that sustain life are the grossest manifestations of unsustainability.” Goklany argues that with general improvements in overall health, the importance monetary inequality is secondary. There is no empirical evidence of human physical disruption of the physical climate system and the claimed loss of millions of species is fanciful.
- “The continued extraction of coal, oil and gas following the ‘business-as-usual mode’ will soon create grave existential risks for the poorest three billion, and for generations yet unborn.” Such claims are based on unsubstantiated projections from global climate models that have not been validated with empirical data. As Goklany states: “Given the credibility of the models involved, it would be foolhardy, if not immoral to spend scarce resources on problems derived from models that so far have failed to track reality, particularly since those resources can be put to better use solving problems we know exist here and now, and are amenable to solution.”
- “Climate change resulting largely from unsustainable consumption by about 15% of the world’s population has become a dominant moral and ethical issue for society.” Goklany contradicts this statement by noting the general improvements in human well-being with the general increase in in use of fossil fuels over the past 25 years. He then presents a WHO analysis the finds that poverty, or conditions associated with it, intensify at least health ten risk factors.
“Despite its many sins of omission and commission, the academies did get one thing right: climate change is a moral and ethical issue. But it is a strange moral calculus that endorses policies that would reduce existing gains in human wellbeing, increase the cost of humanity’s basic necessities, increase poverty, and reduce the terrestrial biosphere’s future productivity and ability to support biomass, all in order to solve future problems that may not even exist or, if they do, are probably more easily solved by future generations who should be richer both economically and technologically. Moreover, because food, fibre, fuel and energy – basic necessities – consume a disproportionately large share of the income of the poorest, they would also pay the highest price for these policies. So much for the academies’ concern for inequality. “Today’s world may not be perfect, but without access to cheaper energy alternatives – fossil fuels, like it or not, are usually the cheapest available option – it would be more imperfect. Someday it may be possible to meet humanity’s basic necessities without fossil fuels. But we are not there yet. As the academies note, three billion people still have unmet energy needs. Insisting on doing ‘the right thing’, but at the wrong time, could make matters worse. Even if one is confident that a child nearing adulthood could leap across a ten-foot chasm, it would be lethal to insist that a three-year old do the same thing. Similarly, there may be a fossil-fuel-free world in the future, but now is not the future. Insisting on a fossil-fuel-free world now would only prolong poverty and limit the terrestrial biosphere’s productivity.”In reviewing the conflict between the Academies and the loyal opposition, one cannot but be drawn into making similarities between the Church’s Aristotelian scholars of the 16th century and Galileo. The former argued from an outdated model of an earth centered universe (from the days of the Ptolemy observers in Egypt) and refused to accept the observations from Galileo demonstrating, imperfectly, that the sun was the center of the solar system, and the sun was not immutable (had sunspots). As the basis of their arguments, the scholars were using imperfect models about nature while ignoring observations of nature. Similarly, the climate and economic models used by Academies are outdated with assumptions that need to be revised based on observations. See links under Expanding the Orthodoxy – The Pope – Loyal Opposition
Defending the OrthodoxyAn article in Science, written by some leaders in the US scientific establishments, asserts that the scientific establishment is self-correction. This may be accurate in certain circumstances, such as with the Wakefield example given in the text, even though the effects of which are still on going. But, in other circumstances, such as with massive government funding, the assertion is questionable. The authors of the article ignore the elephant in the room. The article ignores the continued failure of the IPCC and US scientific entities to publically withdraw prior IPCC reports that are not valid, such as Mr. Mann’s hockey stick, to adequately test climate models, and to fully recognize natural influences on climate. This failure is supported by the Nation Academy of Sciences and other US scientific entities. Even Science, where the editorial appeared, has systematically refused to publish well-supported scientific papers that challenge some of the findings of the IPCC, even when these papers were written by well-established researchers in the field. Science cannot be considered self-correcting as long as these policies remain. See links under Defending the Orthodoxy.
How Broad Is It?By a 5 to 4 vote, the US Supreme Court overturned a decision by a lower court enforcing the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) rules on Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) released from power plants. Writing for the majority, Justice Antonin Scalia said that it was not appropriate for the EPA “to impose billions of dollars in economic costs in return for a few dollars in health or environmental benefits.” The EPA argued that it factored in cost later in the process of crafting the rules, even though the EPA has failed to calculate costs of some of its regulations. In fact, the EPA has long publically asserted that it is not required to include the costs of regulations under the Clean Air Act. According to reports: “Approximately 62 GW of coal-fired electric generating capacity in the U.S. has already been retired or converted to other fuel sources in an effort to comply with the MATS regulation. It is unlikely that the Supreme Court decision will have any effect on the majority of the closed facilities.” However, the ruling may give utilities the option to consider coal-fired power plants as back-up to natural gas plants and other forms of electricity generation. More importantly, it gives opponents to EPA regulations grounds for asserting that the EPA must include the costs of said regulations, rather than ignore such costs. Already, EPA supporters are assessing methods of minimizing reported costs or the impact of the court ruling on other EPA regulations such as those found in the Administration’s Clean Power Plan. How these efforts will play out, and out broad the ruling will become remains to be seen. However, it is the concurring opinion of Justice Clarence Thomas that may have the most significant impact. Justice Thomas notes that the EPA requested special treatment, deferring to agency interpretations of federal statutes, under a Supreme Court decision in Chevron U. S. A. Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. 467 U. S. 837 (1984). Thomas states that the EPA “request for deference raises serious questions about the constitutionality of our broader practice of deferring to agency interpretations of federal statutes.” Thomas argues that “the judicial power, as originally understood requires a court to exercise its independent judgement in interpreting and expounding upon the laws”, and that the “Chevron deference precludes judges from exercising that judgment, forcing them to abandon what they believe is “the best reading of an ambiguous statute” in favor of an agency’s construction.”.. “It thus wrests from the Courts the ultimate interpretative authority to ‘say what the law is,’ Marbury v. Madison, 1 Cranch 137, 177 (1803), and hands it over to the Executive.” Thomas further explains his views and concludes with: “we seem to be straying further and further from the Constitution without so much as pausing to ask why. We should stop to consider that document before blithely giving the force of law to any other agency ‘interpretations’ of federal statutes.” No wonder so many political “liberals” rail against Justice Thomas. His views can have severe limiting effects on regulatory agencies that interpret the law as they see fit. See links under Litigation Issues. Secret Science: The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works reported out bill S: 544, the Secret Science Reform Act of 2015, which deserves special mention and citation. The report states:
“The Committee on Environment and Public Works, to which was referred a bill (S. 544) to prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from proposing, finalizing, or disseminating regulations or assessments based upon science that is not transparent or reproducible, having considered the same, reports favorably thereon with an amendment and recommends that the bill, as amended, do pass.” It further states: “EPA also has a record of relying on science conducted outside the Agency that is not available to the public-or to the EPA-and therefore cannot be replicated or verified by independent researchers. For example, virtually all Clean Air Act regulations under the Obama Administration have been justified by data sets collected by two non-governmental institutions over 30 years ago, which have been withheld from the public and cannot be replicated.. In 2014, Congress learned this data either no longer exists, is of such poor quality that modeling results cannot be replicated, or has not been coded to facilitate independent analysis. However, EPA continues to rely on this data to support major regulations.” (p. 2)Three decades of the EPA keeping secret the justifications for regulations made in the name of public health may be a bit too long. See links under The Political Games Continue, and EPA and other Regulators on the March.
Natural Climate ChangeOn her blog, Jo Nova brings up a new study on the historical changes in mega-Lake Chad, in West Africa, immediately south of the Sahara. The editors of PNAS state the significance of the paper:
North Africa was wetter 15,000-5,000 years ago than today, with wetlands and lakes formed in the Sahara due to an enhanced monsoon. We reconstruct the lake-level history of Lake Mega-Chad, when it was the largest African lake, and demonstrate that this humid period ended abruptly 5,000 years ago, indicating that the African monsoon exhibits a nonlinear response to insolation forcing. The northern basin of Lake Mega-Chad, currently the world’s greatest dust source, became dry around 1,000 years ago.These findings are consistent with the findings of HH Lamb over 3 decades ago. The drying of the Sahara and was probably associated with global cooling following the Holocene Climate Warm Period. They are also consistent with other studies on the changing climate of the great desert belt in the Northern Hemisphere, including the disappearance of the Harappan civilization on the Indus valley and plateau. Such studies demonstrate that climate change is real and can be dangerous to civilizations. But, governments pretending they can stop climate change by controlling human emissions of carbon dioxide is the pure folly. See links under Changing Climate.